Try as much as possible to be as rational as possible while playing Fantasy baseball, we all know that is not possible. As much as we may all think that all our research represents a passionate search for an objective truth that will lead us to a championship, it is not possible to get around this simple fact: We are all human.
And while we may be close to the top of the planet on the planet when it comes to our ability to remain objective, that does not really say much; I may not get caught up in the “fake tennis ball throw” trick as often as my year old labrador puppy does, I’m quite likely to fall for “my breakout choice had the first two weeks, and now I’m a genius” trick . And I bet you are too. Its natural!
The problem is that because the start of the season means the first real baseball we’ve seen in months, it can often mean that our opinions of players tend to calcify early, and it can be difficult to change them. Two weeks or a month in April does not necessarily mean anything more than two weeks in May or July or any other time of the year, but the two weeks in April can have an excessive significance in how we perceive players.
With that in mind, I realized that mid-May was a good time to look at who has had the biggest difference in production between the first month of the season and the first weeks of May. In this piece, I’m looking for players who have declined since the first month, to see if there might be cause for concern, or perhaps an opportunity to buy if not.
Here are the 10 players who have seen their WOBA shrink the most since the calendar became May:
Mike the trout
Some very big names on that list, and none bigger than the top. Of course, a certain context is needed: Trout’s. On May 324, WOBA will continue to be ranked in the 42nd percentile for the league overall this season. Even when he sleeps, he is still quite good.
Trout have seen the strike rate jump from 26.1% in April to 30.8% in May, and that is the key difference here. And that has actually been a problem since the start of the season. He turns more often in general, but the turning frequency in places outside the zone (22.3%) would actually only be his fifth highest ever, and is not far from 2018, when he turned in 21.8% of the places outside the zone goal had only 20, 8% rash.
The problem is not discipline, necessarily, it is a contact problem: the trout has a career-low 74.7% contact rate on turns – his previous low was 79.9%. And it has been a particular problem in places in the strike zone, since he has gone from ranking 38 out of 164 hitters on the contact frequency in the zone from 2018 to 2020 at 89.7% to 129 out of 162 at 80.4% so far in 2021.
It’s weird to say about a guy hitting .336 / .464 / .637, but Trout has apparently only been a little off so far. In addition to the problems with strikes and swinging strikes, his average launch angle is down to 12.3 degrees, from over 22% in each of the previous seasons and over 18% since 2017. He hits the ball more on the ground than he has done since the rookie season. , and it has played a role in his lowest expected ISO based on StatCast data since 2016.
Of course, this is all relative; Trout ranks 14th in hard hit rate and 12th in expected wOBA for the season. However, his latest slide shows some ever so small cracks in the armor. Trout is still probably one of the best hitters in Fantasy moving forward, and I would bet strongly that his strike percentage will return to his career norms before long. There is not much to do here – it is unlikely that you can buy trout at any discount even with a few weeks, and you should certainly not look to sell him – but it is at least worth noting.
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Escobar’s May numbers include his two-homer match on Saturday, so you know things were particularly bad before that. Escobar was apparently seriously pressing before Saturday, when he sported an ugly 30.2% strike percentage with only 3.8% walking percentage; in April, it was 18.3% and 8.3%, respectively.
Escobar comes from a terrible 2020 that saw him beat just .212 / .270 / .335, and while his underlying numbers are pretty much better, it’s hard to see him return to the 2019 form that saw him run in. 118 races with 35 homers and hit 74 extra-base hits. He’s apparently selling out for power more than ever, with a career-high 22.3-degree launch angle, but with the ball not traveling that far this season, it’s not a good strategy, and that trend got worse, not better in May; his average launch angle was 26.3 degrees, the highest in baseball. For a guy with medium raw power, it’s not a viable approach, and it’s hard to see much reason to look at him as more than a fringe of the Fantasy option at this point.
We broke down other struggling players and what to do with them included Lucas Giolito on the latest Fantasy Baseball Today podcast. You can subscribe to make sure you get the latest episodes of Fantasy Baseball Today right when they end apple and Spotify.
When talking about a 40-year-old, you must always be on the lookout for signs of declining skills. Cruz strikes out a little more in May than he was in April, and he hits the ball less hard and on the ground more often than he did as well. But we are talking about relatively small changes across the board, and Cruz is still crushing the ball completely – his hard interest rate in May is 50%. There will always be people looking for proof that Cruz is finally falling off, but this is not it.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
From April 28 – the day after his three-homer match – until May 13, Guerrero looked like the poster boy for this exercise, when he had fallen in a .231 / .355 / .327 decline with only one homer and two doubles in 14 games. Except that he is now at home in three right after his 3-for-5, two-RBI show on Sunday. His plate discipline has been a bit worse in May, his launch angle is a bit down, and he has fallen from elite in hard hit to more than average, and given how big an outlier his April was from his first two seasons, you can not exactly write off something dip like just noise. But you will not find me to express much skepticism to Guerrero at this time. I already made that mistake before the season, and as long as he continues to raise the ball – the 8.2 degree average launch angle in May is still almost double the 2020 mark – I will not doubt him.
Martinez is not as old as Cruz is, but considering his fights in 2020, there were even more questions about his ability to rediscover his old form that came in 2021. His April put them at ease, and even a Slower May should not scare you much, for there is not much to worry about when checking under the hood. He still looks a lot more like the 2019 and earlier version of himself than the 2020 version, and that’s all we want to see. It is not necessary to sell here.
Here’s another older guy who’s apparently moving in the wrong direction, except just like Cruz and Martinez, I see no reason to really worry. First of all, it is unlikely that someone will knock on your door for a 34-year-old Michael Brantley, even when things are going well. We know who he is at this point, and he is a specialist who gives you average production everywhere else. This is what he looks like again this season.
And here’s a player we really do not know what to make. He was pretty good in a small sample size in 2019, pretty bad in a bigger, but still quite small sample in 2020, and now he has been up and down so far this season. In Solak’s case, I am inclined to think that there will be some eruptions here, partly because the underlying figures in May are actually quite better than they were in April; his knock-out speed, gait, average exit speed and hard-hitting speed have all moved in the right direction despite his lesser output. I do not know if Solak is a star, but I think he can at least keep something like what he has done so far – maybe even more steals.
I’m quite invested in Correa having a bounceback season, so it’s worrying to see him fail to continue the warm start. However, as with Solak, there is actually not much to be pessimistic about here, because Correa’s underlying numbers mostly suggest that he has not actually been much worse. His dropout rate is up so far in May, but he also walks more and has a higher average exit speed and hit hard in the month as well. Correa underperforms its expected wOBA by .034, and although there are still some issues with how it is calculated that make it difficult to trust the new baseball, the gap between Correa’s expected statistics and what he has actually produced is large enough to say there has probably been at least some bad luck here. He will better come forward.
Margot has also suffered a little bad luck, but in his case it is difficult to get too worked up with it. Margo is just a category league specialist, so if he hit .260 instead of .229, he would be a more valuable stolen base specialist, but you would still look at only 1.5 category contributions. If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, it’s not in the bat, but on the base trails – he should get to 20 steals if he continues to run at his current pace, and you can expect a few more attempts if the average improved.
Freeman was disappointing in April, and he has been a flat issue in your lineup in May. But it does not matter, does it? He has earned some of his poor play in May, but he also has such a long history of elite production that there is no real justification for being worried at this point. This kind of ebbs and streams happen, and even his poor May is not entirely unique – he had a 12-game stretch to end 2019 with a .209 wOBA, and had two separate stretches in 2018 with a wOBA below .230. If you have Freeman, do not sell him; If you do not have Freeman and someone is willing to sell him even a small discount, do what you can to get him on your side.